Army women flatten Penn State for rugby sevens title

Penn State's Deven Owsiany (right) collides with Army's Jessica Sexauer in the second half of the Cadets' 14-5, title-clinching win over the Nittany Lions.
Penn State's Deven Owsiany (right) collides with Army's Jessica Sexauer in the second half of the Cadets' 14-5, title-clinching win over the Nittany Lions. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 06, 2011

The target was only 20-some yards away when Jessica Sexauer, rumbling downfield like a tank, picked up an enemy combatant on her radar. Instinctively, as if it were a gun on a turret, the Army fullback swung her right arm into combat readiness.

Moving at full speed now, Sexauer's straight-arm struck Bianca Dalal in the left shoulder, felling the Penn State defender like a rootless birch and clearing the Cadet star's path to the try zone.

As the crowd at PPL Park gasped in astonishment at the impact, Sexauer burst clear and scored the first points in a 14-5 Army victory over the Nittany Lions in the women's title game of the 2011 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championships.

While the play and the performance of Army's women likely won't produce a change in the ban on women in combat, it did point out the physicality of women's rugby. Sports such as women's ice hockey have outlawed the more physical aspects of that sport, but women's rugby is identical to the male version. And Sexauer, a big, rangy, athletic player, exemplifies her game's toughness.

"Before the game we decided that I didn't think I was going to beat them around the outside with speed, so [I should] just go ahead and take a hit on them," said Sexauer, who has one more year left at West Point. "That was my first breakaway of the game. I didn't think I could outrun her, so I just went straightforward. It worked out. I think I caught her off guard a little bit."

Dalal, who began playing rugby only this spring, still looked a little nonplussed several minutes after the first women's sevens collegiate title game concluded with trophy presentations, photos, hugs and tears.

"I thought I could get back and catch her," Dalal said. "She caught me up here in the neck."

As happened last month, when the game was rugby 15s, Army again prevailed in a national title game over Penn State, a school that has won six national titles in 12 years and dominated the more traditional form of the sport. The Cadets took that one, 33-29.

But only Sexauer on the winners had played this condensed version of rugby before, so Sunday's championship-game victory was a little more unexpected than May's.

"I was actually the only girl on our team with sevens experience," Sexauer said. "So for me, it wasn't too bad. I kind of knew what to expect. But my teammates, I think, were kind of taken aback by the pace of it. We're really a good group of athletes, so we came together pretty quickly."

Sexauer's physical foray took place after a turnover near midfield. The ball came to her after a few passes and as she broke clear only Dalal stood in her path.

The conversion kick gave the Cadets a 7-0 lead with 2 minutes, 43 seconds to play in the first half. It was an advantage the Nittany Lions would not be able to overcome.

"They're a solid team," Dalal said. "We came out and played a good game. I think that was a great game of sevens. They were just the better team today."

Penn State star Lisa Henneman, like Sexauer a candidate for the U.S. national team, scored a try as time ran out in the opening half, but the conversion kick sailed wide, meaning the Nittany Lions would need two scores to win.

When Army's Sadie Anderson scored on a try with 4:35 to go in the game and the conversion kick added two more points for a 14-5 lead, Penn State was essentially finished.

At game's end, Army's players hoisted Sexauer, their captain, onto their collective shoulders and the Adairsville, Ga., native lifted the crystal winners' trophy high into the cool Chester air.

"This win is big," she said. "Before the game, we just told ourselves that we should go out and have fun. This whole tournament was fun. We never played sevens before. . . . A rematch with Penn State is always good. It's always a good game.

"I think that game right there, us against Penn State, is probably the best women's rugby you're going to see for a while."

She might not see too much more herself. Having just completed her junior year, Sexauer said she planned to focus now more on her Army career than on rugby.

"Actually right now I'm planning to be a helicopter pilot," she said. "I've been invited for the national team stuff, but I kind of decided to pursue my Army career and not really do too much outside. The coaches are awesome. They've been keeping the door open for me.

"But don't get me wrong. I love rugby."

Just ask Bianca Dalal.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phiullynews.com.

 

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